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Abraham Lincoln's 



Excerpts from newspapers and other 


From the files of the 
Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection 

7/.20*7. OtS^OSTZO 





By Clarence O. Kimball. 

In this morning's Messenger 
(April 12, 192/!) appears a aer- 
nionette in the editorial col- 
umns, "reprinted from Dor- 
ways'," under the title of "Vic- 
tory Through Defeats," in which 
the most .commendable conclu- 
sion is drawn from the most 
false of premises. A greater 
number of errors regarding the 
life of Abraham Lincoln could 
scalcely be crowded into the 
same small ploce. Briefly they 
are these: 

1. Abraham Lincoln .did run 
for the legislature when he was 
a young man, very young, but 
he was not "badly swamped." 
He had barely turned twenty- 
three, was a comparatively 
ignorant frontier youth, and yet 
in his own precinct, pronounc- 
edly democratic in its senti- 
ments, he, a whig, received 227 
out of the 300 votes cast. In his 
own handwriting he stated that 
"this was the only time that 
Abraham was ever defeated on 
a direct vote of the people. Two 
years later he was elected and 
served in the legislature eight 
years, became speaker, and re- 
tired of his own choice. In 1841 
when he was only thirty-two, his 
friends proffered him their sup- 
port for the governorship of Illi 
nois, but he preferred to go to 
Washington and declined to run 
for governor. 

2. He "failed" in a country 
store — a store that he and two 
partners bought without a cent 
of money. One of the partners 
wrecked the business, and Lin- 
coln's high sense of honor 
caused him to assume debts 
which he was under no legal 
obligation to pay ($1100). The 
custom of that rude frontier 
was to pay debts by running 
away. Lincoln's conduct in this 
matter was a great element in 
his making, and cannot be too 
highly praised, even if the arena 
was small. There is no moral 
stain on "Honest Abe." This is 
anythipg but failure. 

3. Ann. Rutledge died and Lin- 
coln mourned. But this is not 
failure. The Ladles' Home Jour- 
nal wove a wonderful romance 
out of this, from which the pub- 
lic will never recover, but Lin- 
coln did. 

4. He ran for Congress, but 
was not "badly" defeated, in 
fact, he was not defeated at all. 
In his first race in 1812 San- 
gamon county instructed for Ed- 
ward D. Baker, good friend of 
Lincolni who waa defeated in tna 

convention by Hardin. Two 
years later Baker was nomi- 
nated and elected, and two years 
after that Lincoln was nomi- 
nated and tdected by the largest 
est majority ever given in the 
district up to that time, not- 
withstanding his democratic op- 
ponent was the popular Metho- 
dist itinerant, Peter Cartwright. 

5. Lincoln declined to make 
any effort for the U. S. Land 
Office because of his support of 
a friend for the position. When 
the appointment of the latter 
became an impossibility, he ap- 
plied for the place himself only 
to defeat an unacceptable can- 
didate. It was then too late, but 
instead he was offered the gov- 
ernorship of the territory of 
Oregon, which would soon be- 
come a state and would unques- 
tionably return him as its first 
U. S. Senator, as it did his friend 
Baker. He declined. 

6. It is not true that Lincoln 
"became a candidate for the U. 
S. Senate and was badly de- 

7. He was not a candidate for 
vice-president in 1856. His fa- 
mous speech at the Bloomington 
convention had made him the 
real leader of the new Repub- 
lican party in Illinois, and with- 
out his knowledge delegates to 
the national convention in the 
east voted for him for the vtee- 
presidential nomination to the 
surprising number of 110, but 
when he heard of it back in 
Illinois he remarked that it must 
have been "that other distin- 
guished Lincoln in Massachu- 
setts" who got the votes. 

8. In 1858 he was defeated by 
Douglas in the famous fight for 
the senatorship because of a 
gerrymandering legislature. With 
the political complexion of the 
state adverse to Mm, and de- 
spite the overwhelming personal 
nopularity of the "Little Giant," 
he received a majority of the 
popular vote. All the moral ef- 
fects of victory besides were his, 
and he himself regarded this 
battle as but a skirmish preced- 
ing the decisive conflict of 1860. 

At twenty-three Lincoln was a 
captain in the Black Hawk war. 
One biographer says: "Master of 
a profession (surveying) in which 
he had an abundance of work 
and earned fair fees, hopeful of 
being admitted in a few months 
to the bar, a member of the 
state assembly with every rea- 
son to believe that, if he de- 
sired it, his constituency would 
return him — few men are as far 
advanced at twenty-six as was 
Abraham Lincoln,'? 


*-*A>. 4^A- 


Bulletin of the Lincoln National Life Foundation ------- Dr. Louis A. Warren, Editor. 

Published each week by The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, of Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

No. 264 


April 30, 1934 


Much has been written about the failures of Abraham 
Lincoln, and many incidents which must have given him 
considerable personal satisfaction have been interpreted 
so as to present him in a mood of humiliation. It will be 
admitted that he often suffered disappointment, but this 
is not an uncommon experience for those who are ambi- 
tious and aim high. 

There is a note of despondency in Lincoln's first public 
speech which biographers have carried down through 
the years as evidence that he was continually disheart- 
ened by humiliating defeats. On March 9, 1832, when he 
was but twenty-three years of age, he concluded a polit- 
ical address with these words, "If the good people in 
their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, 
I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very 
much chagrined." 

Within six weeks after Lincoln drew this rather 
gloomy picture of his early life, an event occurred which 
he claimed gave him more pleasure than any other ex- 
perience up to the time of his election to the presidency. 
He was elected a captain by a volunteer company in the 
Black Hawk War. It was this military service which 
more than any other factor prevented him from making 
the political canvass in 1832 and resulted in what some 
may consider a political failure, but which in reality was 
his first great triumph at the polls. 

The fact is that Lincoln succeeded in nearly every ac- 
tivity to which he gave his attention for any period of 
time. In his primitive occupation as a woodsman none 
excelled him. As a riverman he became an expert author- 
ity on waterways. The accuracy of his work as deputy 
surveyor has been demonstrated over and over again. In 
athletic achievements he had few superiors. He became 
the recognized head of the Illinois bar. His political am- 
bitions were only satisfied when he became President of 
the United States. 

Space will not permit a review of his successes in these 
various enterprises, but the triumphs which he achieved 
in the last mentioned effort will illustrate how he moved 
on from one elevation to another with steady and sure 
progress, until he was given the highest honor which 
America has to offer. 


A resident of Illinois but two years and of Sangamon 
County but eight months, with but five days to campaign 
he ran seventh among thirteen candidates for the legis- 
lature. He polled all but three of the 281 votes in his own 
precinct and ran but 159 votes behind Peter Cartwright 
one of the successful candidates. 


Lincoln's showing in 1832 encouraged him to announce 
for the legislature again in 1834. Of the four successful 
candidates he polled within fourteen votes as many as 
the largest number cast for any single candidate. ' His 
total vote in 1834 jumped to 1,376. This was a notable 
achievement for so young a politician. 


Sangamon County elected seven representatives to the 
legislature in 1836, and Lincoln led the ticket with 1 716 
votes. He was made the Whig floor leader, although but 
twenty-eight years of age. 


Step by step Lincoln gained preeminence among the 
Whigs of Illinois and was given the complimentary vote 
as Speaker of the House by the minority party in 1838. 


Supplementing his being elected to the legislature, 
making four conclusive terms in which he was successful, 
he was chosen one of the Harrison and Tyler electors. 
He went back to Kentucky, his native state, for an ad- 
dress, which was possibly his first public address outside 
of Illinois. 


His political leadership was further recognized by his 
being made presidential elector for Henry Clay. During 
this campaign he addressed groups near his old home in 


Elected as a representative from Illinois to the Con- 
gress of the United States, he was the only one from the 
state to represent the Whig party. He made important 
political speeches in New England at this time. 


He was again elected to the General Assembly of Illi- 
nois which appears to vindicate, as far as his own party 
is concerned., his term in Congress. He resigned, however, 
to become the party's candidate for the United States 


At the .first National Republican Convention in Phila- 
delphia, Lincoln received 110 votes as a candidate for the 
Vice Presidency of the United States without any effort 
put forth on his part. 


Pitted against the strongest man in the United States 
Senate, Stephen A. Douglas, he received a larger popular 
vote than his famous rival, which would indicate he was 
the people s choice for senator. 


The popular vote for Lincoln in 1860 was 1,866,452. 
This total was the largest ever cast for a president up 
to that time and 511,295 more than was cast for Douglas 
the runner-up. The fact that he received a majority of 
the popular votes in his home precinct at Springfield 
seemed to give him the most satisfaction of anv of the 
election returns. The elective votes were as follows- Lin- 
coln, 180; Breckinridge, 72; Bell, 37; and Douglas, 'l2. 


The election of 1864 was a real test of the popular re- 
action to his administrative policies, and the overwhelm- 
ing victory must have been a fitting climax to his political 

Bulletin of the Lincoln National Life Foundation ------ Dr. Louis A. Warren, Editor 

Published each week by The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Fort Wayne, Indiana 

Number 487 


August 8, 1938 


Appearing under either the caption "Lincoln's Failures" 
or the title "Discouraged?", there has been widely distrib- 
uted a series of statements which imply that Lincoln was 
continually suffering defeat until at last he finally 
achieved the presidency. This was good psychology to 
emphasize during the depression, when so many people 
were suffering reverses, and now that another season of 
unfavorable business conditions is upon us the story of 
Lincoln's failures again find their way into the hands of 
the people. 

After the caption "Discouraged" on this interesting 
broadside, there is a question mark — sort of a self -analysis 
reminder. For the purpose of this discussion it might 
better be placed after the title "Lincoln Failures" with 
the implication that possibly the experiences of Lincoln 
were not so humiliating as indicated. 

One questions whether or not so much emphasis should 
be placed on the element of failure which is featured by 
the compilation of experiences in Lincoln's struggle for 
advancement. It is very evident that Lincoln himself, did 
not become depressed by occasional reverses and most cer- 
tainly his friends and political associates who finally se- 
cured his nomination to the presidency did not consider 
him a good example of a citizen whose life was a long 
series of failures. 

The eight statements quoted in this issue of Lincoln 
Lore are those most usually found on the circulated broad- 
sides, although various versions differ both in the number 
of failures tabulated and in the emphasis placed on the 
magnitude of the failure. 

1. "When Abraham Lincoln was a young man he ran 
for the legislature in Illinois and was badly swamped." 

Lincoln was but twenty-three years old when he an- 
nounced himself as a candidate for the Illinois Legisla- 
ture. He had been in the state but two years and in his 
home precinct but six months. He was absent from the 
county in the Black Hawk War during the entire campaign 
with the exception of a week. Yet, with no opportunities 
. to campaign, he polled 277 votes, or all but three in his 
own precinct, and with thirteen candidates in the county, 
four to be elected, he ran in eighth position, just 159 votes 
behind Peter Cartright, one of the successful candidates. 
It does not appear that Lincoln was "badly swamped" as 
his total vote, even in defeat, was greater than the average 
vote of the entire group of candidates. Two years later he 
was elected to the legislature and served eight consecu- 
tive years. Certainly a summary of his early political ex- 
periences does not leave the impression that Lincoln was 
a failure but a tremendous success. 

2. "He next entered business, failed, and spent seven- 
teen years of his life paying up the debts of a worthless 

It is true that Lincoln did not succeed as a storekeeper 
but he sold his interest in the business before it failed. 
Giving security for friends, buying surveying equipment, 
and the death of his partner brought on bankruptcy. Ob- 
ligations which otherwise would not have been his, put 
him in debt to the extent of about $500. The statement 
that he spent "seventeen years of his life" paying this 
debt is certainly misleading as in the meantime, he mar- 
ried, raised a family, bought a home, and took his place 
in economic life of Springfield. 

3. "He fell in love with a beautiful young woman to 
whom he became engaged — then she died." 

Probably Lincoln was "in love" with Ann Rutledge, she 
may have been "a beautiful young woman", but there is 

no dependable evidence that Lincoln ever "became en- 
gaged" to her, as it has been generally accepted that she 
still considered her engagement to the absent suitor, John 
McNamar, as binding. About a year after Ann's death, 
Lincoln proposed marriage to another young lady at New 
Salem and later on married a brilliant young woman who 
was often called the belle of Springfield. The story that 
Lincoln's heart was buried with Ann Rutledge is but an- 
other bit of the Herndon legend. 

4. "Entering politics he ran for Congress and was badly 

This notation is an interesting reference to a prelimi- 
nary local rivalry in which three men including Lincoln 
were hoping to be nominated at a local convention. Lin- 
coln had "entered politics" ten years before and he never 
"ran for Congress" in 1843 because he was not the party 
candidate. He was sent from the local convention to the 
district convention instructed to vote for one of the three 
men seeking the nomination. This is a typical citation 
which shows to what effort some one has gone to build 
up Lincoln's failures. 

5. "He then tried to get an appointment to the United 
States Land Office, but failed." 

Upon reviewing the whole story of Lincoln's land office 
experience, it is evident that in attempting to first secure 
the position for some one else, he sacrificed an appoint- 
ment that could easily have been his own if he had gone 
after it at the beginning. He only failed after he had ex- 
hausted his efforts on behalf of another and then tried to 
rescue the appointment by becoming a candidate himself. 

6. "He became a candidate for the United States Senate 
and was badly defeated." 

One conversant with Lincoln's senatorial aspirations in 
1854 scarcely could call him a "badly defeated" man. Pos- 
sibly he was a badly treated man and most certainly sacri- 
ficed his personal chances for the sake of the party. 
Here is Lincoln's own reaction to the balloting: "I began 
with 44 votes, Shields 41, and Trumbull 5, — yet Trumbull 
was elected. In fact, 47 different members voted for me, — 
getting three new ones on the second ballot, and losing 
four old ones. How came my 47 to yield to Trumbull's 5 ?" 

7. "In 1856, he became a candidate for the vice presi- 
dency and was again defeated." 

It is inferred from the statement about the use of his 
name for the vice presidency in 1856 that Lincoln sought 
the office. The fact is that he had no knowledge that his 
name would be used and was surprised it had been placed 
before the convention. He was not even in attendance and 
there was no opportunity for much organized effort on his 
behalf, yet with his name merely put in nomination, on 
the first ballot he received 110 votes over against the 259 
cast for Dayton whose campaign for the vice presidency 
was well executed. 

8. "In 1858, he was defeated by Douglas." 

This is the one statement in the entire list of eight that 
would seem to need no comment as it is widely known that 
the senatorial contest between Lincoln and Douglas in 1858 
was won by Douglas. It is not known, generally, however, 
that Lincoln received a larger popular vote than Douglas 
and it was only by the voting of the electoral college that 
Lincoln was defeated. To poll more votes than the out- 
standing statesman of America of that day should not be 
counted an ignominious defeat. 

STAR, FEBRUARY 11, 1940. 

, • / < • . , 

Research Regarding Lincoln's Life 
Gives Honorable Record of Career 

u a nlan had purchased a home 

No Excuse for Misleading Statements 
-Except Ignorance, Says Writer of 
This Article. 

"When God wauls a man fur a supreme task He 
usually picks him from the quid places. 



T T IS indeed difficult to say anything new - unusual about our 
1 greatest American. There has m the a St few >ear y 

falfe or misleading statements m ade per ^Z^J^g eSiVly H fe 

C °Just y iast year an article ap- a ~ n ^elo71ul lather ana motner 
peared in a magazine of wide npftr Sa , emi nl . it was afterthu 
circulation, filled with one mis- ]abor of af f ec tion was P prfoim( * 
statement after another. From and he was pas t 21 years oW 
reading this article you inevitably lha( he beg an work in unuis 
come* to the conclusion that the stf)re aTld there was no sperms 
author was grossly ignorant of notioe o£ insolvency on the aoor. 
the subject or deliberately ig- vWh u e employed in this store, n_ 
nored the laborious and pamstak- en iisted in the Black Hav k 
Tg years of research of William dian wa r and was chosen captam 
Barton, Ida Tarbell, Dr. Lewis of his company by the u J an ™° u w 
Warren, John Hay, Carpenter and vot e of his neighbors and 
a host of other students of Lin- 
coln. He may have drawn his 
story from Herndon's "Life of 
Lincoln" which contains much un- 
friendly criticism of his great law 
partner. Some Lincoln biograph- 
ers think it was written to vent 
his spleen on Mrs. Lincoln, whom 
he detested, and she had little 
use for him. 
Gross Misstatement. 

One gross misstatement 

enlisted men. 
Only One Partner. 


aSaTn °wi?hVn two years 



12, 1848." nnlv 

William Berrv was the onrs 

that he "had attended school only 
a few weeks. Lincoln had at 
least five different teachers in 
Kentucky and Indiana besides he 
had the help of Mentor Graham 
in Illinois, who helped him in the 
study of grammar until he mas- 
tered every rule in English. He 
put into his- hands a number of 
classical books of both prose and 
poetry. He was ever a student 
of the Holy Bible. This cannot be 
gainsaid when we know that he 
belonged to no church, but quot- 
ed more lines from the Sacred 
Book in his state papers and re- 
corded addresses than all the 
presidents combined preceding or 
following him. This misinformed 
writer said: 


Lincoln at 22 had no savings 
or partnership in any store. He 
could have hac". no seven years' 
savings. Up to the time he came 
to Illinois, his earnings, and right- 
ly so, belonged to his father. He 
worked for him, helping to build 

partner he ever had while in any 
husiness other than the law. This 
partnership was formed within 
six months after he quit Offuts 
store to enlist as a private to 
serve his country in the Black 
Hawk Indian war. This partner- 
ship continued but seven months, 
when he sold his imprest to 
Berry, who ran the store for a 
few months only and closed out. 
While the partnership lasted some 
notes were given, which Berry 
assumed when Lincoln sold his 
interest to him. 

At Berry's death, these notes 
not having been paid, Mr. Lin- 
coln, with much inconvenience to 
himself, assumed payment, ab- 
solving the widow of any respon- 
sibility whatsoever. In after 
years, in clearing this assumed 
debt, he jocularly referred to it 
as the "national debt." Within 
three years thereafter he had 
purchased two residential lots in 
Springfield, 111., and before he was 
39 years old had bought a farm 
for his aging father and mother, 
where they both lived until they 

He also had purchased a home 
for himself and family in Spring- s.ckness, so most writew think 
held Not so bad for a young the story was fabricated by 
man on the frontier who was ed- Herndon to hurt Mary Todd Lm- 
! ?„ Im^lf in the law and coin. It is absurd on the face 
S Sm V. an«i meanwhile of it, as within a year after the 
had served three terms in the episode, he proposed marriage to 
Tllmois Legislature and made a Mary Owen, a buxom Kentucky 
successful race for Congress. lady who was visiting in the com- 
successiui ia munity where Ann had lived. Re- 
Records Show Facts. memh'ering that the engagement 
Third "OFFER OF A JOB AS r j ng he gave Mary Todd a few 
DEPUTY SURVEYOR . . • BUT sno rt years later bore within its 
HE NEVER TOOK THE JOB. golden circle "Love is eternal," 
DESTINY SEEMED TO we are inclined to think the Ann 
HAVE SINGLED HIM OUT FOR Rutledge love affair was but the 
FAILURE." fleeting fancy of a young couple 
How untrue this statement is. mU ch thrown together, Lincoln 
He served as deputy surveyor having lived in the Rutledge 
from the fall of 1833 until he nome for a few months. 

Tnit N h e e W wa S s a a n surv n ey e or r of S Served in Legislature. 

^himv is attested by the fact Fifth, "BELIEVING THAT 

^ Sat^aslatfafjan.^, 1*8 h. THIS FAILURE MIGHT SUC- 

addressed a surveyors' convention CEED IN POLITICS _ 

in Chicago and presented a writ- FRIENDS SECURED His 

ten expert opinion on an abtuse SELECTION TO CO N G R E pi-oblem CONSTITUENTS REFUSED TO 


L^VaNN SSS "I- remembered that before 

llf HLd^EH To s— g eig f ht £ST l h V .52 
! R GRAVF Sn?DOwS Legislature with marked distinc- 

THE n ? T ^ A J~oA^'nv TNSANITY tion and became the head and 

. . . SAID HE NEVER £AKJVU candidate for 

T ° C S™ TO PARENT! Congress on his own volition and 
" • ■ REI £?y, vpf HE WAS declined to run for a second term 
HOME WHERE MENTAL because his term in Washington 
NURSED BACK TO MEN * AL convince d him that he needed 

HEALTH." -tnrtied more self-training and he hid 

No one, who has really stud ea hjmself ^^ |n intensive sUldy of 

Lincoln's life, gives the Ann n u- hJ hpr malhe matics to train his 
ledge story much credence, i ney mjnd Hjs friends and neighbors 
think it mostly fiction. in lcnoi indorsed his course in Congress 
and Hay, who knew the sur- 
roundings better than an y° n the next year, 1848, bv again 
sincp, gave it only mere mennoi sending him to tne Legislature, 
in their matchless work on bin Sixth( -FRIENDS . . . 
coin. Not a word about menia FORCED POLITICAL SITUA- 

Lincoln did lose the senatorship, 
but he stepped aside voluntarily 
to bring about harmony in the 
party and healed a factional fight 
that might have done great dam- 
age to the party. His party won 
the election; one of his good 
friends was chosen as senator. 

Not a Misfit. 

Seventh, "SERIES OF DE- 

The popular vote for the candi- 
dates for the Legislature favoring 
Lincoln was 5,000 more than the 
vote cast for those candidates fa- 
voring Douglas. Lincoln, by the 
popular vote won the election. 
Though the Legislature voted 54 
for Douglas to 46 for Lincoln, not 

such an overwhelming victory for 
Douglas, the acknowledged leader 
of the Democratic party of the 
nation, and really was a victory 
for Lincoln as it for the first 
time brought his name to the 
American people as a national 
figure and stamped him as a na- 
tion-wide character, and paved 
the way for his success in 1860, 
when he became the first Repub- 
lican President of the nation. We 
cannot account for the ignorance 
of the facts of the life of Lincoln, 
especially after his removal from 
Salem to Springfield. The merest 
novice should not make such glar- 
ing misstatements of facts in ref- 
erence to his life and deeds. 

Many Achievements. 

Eighth, "HE HAD BEEN UN- 

It is hardly understandable that 
any one could have read the most 
unfavorable book on Lincoln and 
after reading such book could 
have made this statement. Here 
are only a few of his remarkable 
achievements of his unusual 
career. He was elected to the 
Legislature less than four years 
after coming to Illinois from In- 
diana and received all but a few 
votes in the precinct in which he 
lived, attesting to his popularity, 
not only in his own party but in 
his opponent's party. When less 
than 25 years of age he was Whig 
Floor Leader and the acknow- 
ledged leader of this party in the 
Legislature of Illinois. 

At 31 he was a Whig presiden- 
tial elector and cast his vote for 
William Henry Harrison for Pres- 
ident. He was again presidential 
elector at large from his state 
and voted for Henry Clay and be- 
fore he was 40 years old he was 
the lone Whig elected to Con- 
gres9*from Illinois. Surely honors 
like these, then and now, do not 
come to miserable failures. In 
1849 he was offered and declined 
an appointment as secretary of 
the Territory of Oregon and a 
short time later could have had 
the much coveted appointment as 
Commissioner of the Land Office 
in the state of Washington. 

Untiring Labor Won. 

In 1S54, just six years before 
being nominated and elected to 
the Legislature and in 1856 with- 
out being k candidate, and mak- 
ing no effort to get a single vote, 
in the first national convention 
held in Philadelphia, he received 
110 votes for Vice-President on 
the first national ticket of the 
Republican party. Miserable fail- 
ures have never in this country 
or elsewhere received so unusual 
and continued honors. 

No, no, Lincoln, continued fail- 
ures did not. follow along your 
pathwav from the cabin in Ken- 
tucky to the White House. They 
did not contribute to your suc- 
cess as the leading lawyer in your 
adopted state. It was only by your 
untiring labor in the forests of 
Indiana where you learned to 
read and did read every available 
book for miles around your cabin 
in the clearing with a determina- 
tion to make the best of every 
situation in which you were 
placed with an ambition to excel 
in every task and a willingness to 
work that made it possible for 
vou to achieve that greatness 
that has stamped you as a leader 
of mankind and endeared you to 
the people of the whole world. 
Long, long, after the Alexanders, 
Napoleons, Caesars and despots of 
their day and despots now, are 
but names, your praises will be 
sung and your carping critics will 
be not. 


By John Harvey Furbay, Ph.D. 


There have been numerous 
printed wall cards on "Lincoln's 
Failures," sometimes under the 
caption of "Discouraged?" These 
recite a long list of supposed de- 
feats and failures of Lincoln. Ac- 
cording to "Lincoln Lore," all of 
these statements are either un- 
truthful or misleading. Lincoln 
was not a political failure when he 
■ ran for the Legislature in Illinois 
or for Congress. He was nearly 
nominated Vice-President without 
even knowing it; he was not out- 
voted by Douglas, and he was 
not the business failure he is 
usually described as having been. 
His life was a series of triumphs, 
not failures. 

(Ledger Syndicate.) 


Chicago Sun Times 
Chicago, Illinois 
February 12, 1963 



maligned and today, instead of making our 
annual pilgrimage to his shrine, we should like 
to devote this space to setting the facts right. 
Ordinarily, on Lincoln's Birthday, we devote 
the column to an imaginary visit with 01' Abe, 
during which we try to relate his undying 
dialog to the problems of today. But Reader's 
Digest chose on this 154th anniversary of Lincoln's birth to 
revive an old chestnut by Arao B. Reincke. The article. He 
Could Take It," first appeared in 1939 and brought forth a 
tremendous howl of anguish from all Lincoln scholars. Now, 
reportedly because Lowell Thomas asked that the article be re- 
printed, Readers Digest does so in its current issue. 

"HE COUI D TAKE IT," is, as you might suspect, the story 
of a man who experienced failure alter failure alter failure, but 
never lost his determination. Finally, he was elected Preside, 
of the United States. It's written in the finest tradition o It 
at first you don't succeed, try, try again," the philosophy of our 
Cubs We have no argument with the philosophy of persever- 
ance, but as lar as Abe Lincoln is concerned the story of failure 
after failure isn't true. He had more than his share of success 
and there's no reason to gild the lily to prove his greatness. 

Lincoln's life by writing: "As. a young man of 2 , a partner in 
a store, he learned lor the first time that failure 
is easier to achieve than success. It was a bitter 
lesson, punctuated with a sheriff's sign on the 
door and the realization that he had lost every 
penny of seven years' savings. 

Fiddlesticks! Lincoln, at 22, was not a part- 
ner, merely a clerk in the store (Offutt's). 
And he had no seven years' savings to lose 
because until he was 21 all his earnings 
rightfully belonged to his lather. There was no 
sheriff's sign on the door during Lincoln's Abraham 

period of employment there. He left Offutt's Lincoln 

to enlist in the black Hawk War and he was immediately elected 
captain of his company, hardly a sign of failure. 

REINCKE TAKES LINCOLN through another bankruptcy, 
which caused him "many years of miserable penury, until on 
his 39th birthday he paid the last dollar of his obligation." 

Again, there is exaggeration. William Berry was Lincoln's one 
and only partner in a store. Lincoln sold out to Berry after 
seven months. When Hem died, Lincoln assumed Obligations 
for notes they had co-signed. But Lincoln didn't sutler "many 
years of miserable penury." Three years alter Berry died Lin- 
coln purchased two house lots in Springfield, 111., and, belore 
he was 39 a (arm lor his parents and a house of his own ill 
Springfield. He also made a successful race for Congress at this 
time, which further deflates Reineke's picture of Lincoln as a 
man with two lefi ft*** 

REINCKE NOW GIVES IT the ol' perfessot-hearts-and- 
flowers routine by reporting that Lincoln, after the second 
mercantile failure, was offered a job as a surveyor. "He was 
forced to borrow in order to buy a set of instruments and a 
horse, but he never took the job. One of his creditors levied on 
the instruments and horse and took them for debt." 

A likely tale. But very unlikely in Lincoln's life. He did serve 
as deputy surveyor for Sangamon County from the fall of 1833 
until about the time he left New Salem in 1837. As late as Jan- 
uary 6, 1849, Lincoln, upon request of a surveyors' convention, 
presented an expert opinion on a technical surveying question. 

OF ALL THE FIBS ABOUT LINCOLN, the supposed affair 
with Ann Rutled^e is the one historians scoff at most. But not 
Reincke. He plunges right through the facts to say: "Life then 
dealt Lincoln the most crushing blow of his career — a blow to 
the heart from which his spirit never recovered. His first love 
suddenly died and. as he later said, his heart followed her to 
the grave. It was too much. He went down to the verge of 
insanity. 'At this period of my life I never dared to carry a 
pocketknife,' Lincoln is quoted as writing. Within a year he 
had broken so completely that he had to be removed to his 
parents' home 300 miles away and nursed back to mental health." 

life. The Ann Rutledge incident is ignored by historians as 
mostly fiction. And, in rapid order, there is no truth whatever 
to "his lollowing her to the grave," the pocketknife story', the 
visit to his parents or his verging on insanity. About a year 
after Ann Rutledge's death, Lincoln proposed marriage to 
Mary Owens, who was visiting in the community. This con- 
ceivably could be the reason for the stories about Abe's sanity. 

THE FLAMBOYANT EFFORT to depict Lincoln as a 
complete patsy until he became President is best typified in 
this passage from Reincke: "He had been unable to achieve 
one single personal victory in 30 years of constant effort." 

THE ABOVE IS PLSH-POSH of the worst kind. It is true- 
Abe Lincoln rose to President in the face of great adversity. 
But he was far from the failure Reincke and others would 
paint him. lor instance: He was elected to the Illinois Legisla- 
ture at 25 years of age and re-elected at each biennial election 
for eight years. At 27, he was the floor leader in the Legislature. 
At 29, he w as potential leader of the Whig Party in Illinois. At 
39, he was the lone Whig congressman elected from the state of 
Illinois. In 1856, with no effort on his part, he received 110 
votes for vice president in the first Republican National Con- 
vention. And you know what happened in 1860. 

February 4, 1963 


The Reader's Pi rest Association, Ice. 

Ploaoantvlllo, Stow York 

Dear Sir: 

I was certainly surprised to road in th© February, 1963, 
edition of the jP.aaaer' , 3 Digest tho article on pages 140-142 by 
Arno B. Eoincfc© entitled, "He Could Take It," In 1939, when this 
article was first printed in your magazine, it was branded as being 
based on legend and sjyth. Dr« Louis A. Warren, then the editor of 
Lincoln tore, squelched the article yith an array of facts • Likewise, 
a pcr.phlet by R. D. Packard was issued in reply to your article 
bearing the title *\fom Lincoln a Failure at Fifty*** 

A great aagaaine like th© Reader *b Direst should strive to 
present facts because you do the American people a disservice ©vorytixae 
you perpetuate a &yth or a fable • It would be so easy to have such 
Lincoln articles authenticated before you publish then In your Etagasina* 

I an to a certain extant a professional lecturer. One of cy 
speeches is entitled "Lincoln's So-Called Failures." In ny speech I 
brand as spurious cost of th© so-called failures of Abrahas Lincoln. 

I would like to have your reaction to ssy cecr.ents. 

Yours sincerely, 

R. Gerald KcKurtry 


Enclosure: Lincoln Lore #*S21 

cc: Lowell Thocaa .. „ v . w v . 

, New York, hew York 

Harold K. Sage, Normal, Illinois 

The Reader's Digest 


March 11, 1963 

Dear Mr. McHurtry: 

Thank you for your informed commands on "He Could Take 
It" in the February Digest. 

Unhappily, there seeras to be more fable than fact in 
the Special Request Feature about Lincoln and we regret 
having perpetuated a myth in an honest attempt to show the 
value of perseverance. Inexplicably, the article did not 
go to our research department for the checking that regu- 
larly precedes the publication of material in The Pleader's 
Digest and there was no record here of criticism following 
its earlier appearance in the magazine back in January 1939. 

We appreciate the interest that prompted you to write. 



Mr. R. Gerald l-lcliurtry 


Lincoln National Life Foundation 

Fort .i'ayne, Indiana 



Bulletin of The Lincoln National Life Foundation . . . Dr. R. Cerald McMurtry, Editor 
Published each month by The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Fort Wayne, Indiana 



April, 1963 


Editors Note: In the February, 11163, issue of the Header's Digest 
t here appeared an article entitled "He Could Take It", by Arn) B. 
Reincke. The publication of this article must have come as a great 
surprise to Lincoln students who had come to believe that the legends 
regarding Lincoln's "so-called" failures had been laid to rest. 

The article was designated by the editors as a Special Request 
Feature with the following introduction: "Lowell Thomas, world- 
famous author, radio commentator, cinerama, television and motion- 
picture producer, has recommended that, this article, which first 
appeared in the January 1939 issue of the Reader's Digest, be re- 

In 1939, when this article was first published, it was branded as 
purely legendary without any basis of fact. Dr. Louis A. Warren, 
then the editor of Lincoln Lore, published a criticism of the article 
in the weekly bulletin on April 3, 1939. The Reader's Digest article 
was also answered by R. D. Packard in a pamphlet bearing the title 
"W;is Lincoln A Failure At Fifty?" Apparently, none of these 
criticisms reached the editors of the Header's Digest. 

This past February a number of Lincoln Lore subscribers suggested 
to the editor that he take up the matter with the magazine editors. 
A lc'tei- dated February 4, 1963, was directed to the magazine's edi- 
torial staff, with a copy being sent to Lowell Thomas. On March 11, 
1963. a letter was received from one of the editors stating that "there 
seems to be more fable than fact in the Special Request Feature 
about Lincoln." While no retraction of the article appealed in later 
issues of the magazine, the editors expressed "regret" for "having 
perpetuated a myth in an honest attempt to show the value of perse- 
verance." The letter further stated that "Inexplicably, the article did 
not go to our research department for the checking that regularly 
precedes the publication of material in the Reader's Digest and there 
was no record here of criticism following its earlier appearance in 
the magazine back in January 1939." 

Kupcinet, one of the nation's most popular columnists, under 
"Kup's Column" answered the Reader's Digest article in his syndi- 
cated column, which among other newspapers, appeared in the 
Chifago Sun-Times of February 12, 1963. Referring to the Reincke 
article Kupcinet took the magazine, the author, and Lowell Thomas 
to task for reviving "an old chestnut." 

In order to review Warren's criticism of the Reincke article, pub- 
lished twenty-four years ago, Lincoln Lore Number 521 is being re- 
printed in this issue. 

R. Gerald McMuitry 

"He Could Take It" 

The portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as a constant and 
miserable failure until "destiny with one magnificent 
stroke" swept him into the Presidency may sound a note 
of encouragement to a man who has never made any 
progress in life, but such a presentation of the Emanci- 
pator has no value as a historical treatise. Arno B. 
Reincke, author of the monograph, "He Could Take It", 
states that his argument is "based on fact," and in so 
affirming invites criticism of his sources. 

This Lincoln failure story appeared as the leading 
article in the January issue of the Reader's Digest, and 
because of the wide circulation of the magazine through 
educational institutions just previous to Lincoln's birth- 
day, it was widely used just at a time when it would have 
its greatest appeal. 

The legendary aspect of the story which deals with 
"unseen forces" and "magnificent strokes of destiny" is 
supplemented by a strange philosophy that a long and 
continued series of failures culminates in success. Most 
students in a democratic country are invited to work out 
their own destiny, and the urge to excel when properly 
directed does not usually pay off in failures. 

Those who have given some attention to the study of 
Lincoln's life, immediately upon reading the Reincke 
story, began to take exceptions to his characterization 
of the Emancipator. Through both correspondence and 
personal interviews the editor of Lincoln Lore has been 

urged to make some written comment upon the eight 
specific statements around which the discussion evolves. 
Limited space will make it necessary, first, to greatly 
abbreviate Mr. Reincke's eight specific statements about 
Mr. Lincoln, and second, to exclude from the comments 
by the editor of Lincoln Lore the many sources of proof 
which might be submitted. Sufficient to say that each 
comment has either a duly authorized record to sustain 
it or a preponderance of evidence to support it. 

1. "A young man of twenty-two, a partner in a store 
.... sheriff sign on the door .... lost every penny of 
seven years savings." 

Lincoln at twenty-two had no partnership interest in 
any store, and he had no seven years' savings to lose as 
all earnings up to the time he was twenty-one rightfully 
belonged to his father. He was serving as a clerk in 
Offut's store. He saw no sheriff's sign on the door, and 
while still employed by Offut he enlisted as a soldier in a 
Black Hawk war and was immediately elected captain 
of his company. 

2. "Second partnership after two years .... failed 
again within two years .... after years of miserable 
penurv .... on his thirty-ninth birthday (February 12, 
1848) paid last dollar." 

William Berry was Lincoln's first and only partner 
in the store business and this relationship was formed 
five months after Lincoln served as clerk for Offut. The 
partnership lasted but seven months and Lincoln sold his 
interest to Berry in April 1833. Berry ran the store as 
sole proprietor until August, four months after he had 
bought out Lincoln. Certain notes signed by Lincoln and 
Berry caused Lincoln to become involved financially, and 
when Berry died Lincoln assumed Berry's obligations. 
Three years later, however, Lincoln bought two house 
lots in Springfield and, before he was thirty-nine years of 
age, he purchased a farm for his parents and a house of 
his own in Springfield. He also made a successful race 
for congress. 

3. "Offer of job as surveyor .... But he never took the 
job .... Destiny seemed to have singled him out for 

Lincoln served as deputy-surveyor for Sangamon Coun- 
ty from the fall of 1833 until about the time he left New 
Salem in the spring of 1837. As late as January 6, 1849 
Lincoln, upon request of a surveyor's convention at Chi- 
cago, presented a written expert opinion on a technical 
surveying question. 

4. "Most crushing blow of his career .... First and 
only enduring love (Ann Rutledge) suddenly died .... 
Said his heart followed her to the grave . . . went down 
to verge of insanity .... said he never dared to carry 
.... pocket-knife .... removed to parents' home where 
he was nursed back to mental health." 

The Ann Rutledge story has been ignored by historians 
as mostly fiction. There is no truth whatever about the 
jjrrave stories, his insanity at this time, the pocket-knife 
story or his visit to his parents. About a year after Ann's 
death he proposed marriage to Mary Owen, who was 
visiting in the same community where Ann had lived. 

5. "Believing that this 'failure' might succeed in poli- 


tics ... friends secured his selection to Congress .... 
again he failed .... constituents refused to return him 
to Washington." 

Before running for Congress on his own initiative in 
1846, he had served eight years in the Illinois legislature 
and was the leading Whig in the state. It was agreed 
before he was elected that he would serve but one term. 
His constituency endorsed him in 1854 by again electing 
him to the Illinois legislature. 

6. "Friends .... forced political situation which placed 
him in direct line for nomination to U. S. senate .... 
Forced to step aside and yield office." 

Lincoln did lose the senatorship but he stepped aside 
voluntarily for the sake of the party to bring about a 
unity of divided factions. His party won. 

7. "Series of debates .... (Douglas) gave no quarter 
to this misfit and failure .... overwhelmingly defeated." 

The popular vote for the candidates to the legislature 
favoring Lincoln was five thousand in excess of the vote 
poled by the candidates favoring Douglas. Lincoln by the 
popular vote won the debates. The legislature voted 
fifty-four to forty-six in favor of Douglas, not an over- 
whelming defeat for Lincoln. 

8. "He had been unable to achieve one single personal 
victory in thirty years of constant effort." 

It is difficult to account for such a statement as the 
above. He was elected to Illinois legislature at twenty-five 
years of age and to the same office at each biennial 
election for eight years, or as long as he chose to run. At 
twenty-seven years of age he was floor leader in the 
legislature, at twenty-nine years he was potential leader 
of the Whig party in Illinois. At thirty-one he was presi- 
dential elector for Harrison, at thirty-five elector at 
large for Clay, at thirty-nine the lone Whig congressman 
elected from the state of Illinois. In 1849 he declined a 
tentative appointment as Secretary of Oregon. In 1854 
he was again elected to the legislature and in 1856 with 
no effort whatever on his part he received one hundred 
and ten votes in the first National Republican Convention 
as a nominee for the Vice-Presidency. 

Congressman Abraham Lincoln Witnessed 

The Death-Stroke of John Quincv Adams 

February 21, 1848 

(Continued from March 1963 issue) 

In the letter already alluded to, dated June 1, 1848, 
Lincoln wrote the Reverend Henry Slicer pointing out 
that as he was not a member of the sub-committee of 
Arrangements "he had no knowledge of it whatever." 
Lincoln explained to the Chaplain that Mr. Charles Hud- 
son, a Massachusetts Whig representative, and also a 
minister of the Universalist Church, was chairman of 
both the general and the sub-committees. Lincoln could 
not recall the names of the other members of Congress 
who served on the sub-committee. 

Lincoln answered Slicer's queries as follows: 

"To your first special interrogatory, to wit 'Were 
you consulted in regard to my exclusion from the 
services?' I answer, I was not — perhaps because the 
arrangements I have stated excluded me from con- 
sultation on all points. 

"To the second, to wit: 'Was objection made to me 
— and if so, on what ground was it placed?' I answer 
I know nothing whatever on the point. 

"To the third, to wit: 'Did my exclusion meet with 
your consent or approval?' I answer, I knew nothing 
of the matter, and, of course, did not consent to, or 
approve of it; and I may add, that I knew nothing 
which should have justified me in any attempt to put 
a mark of disapprobation upon you. 

"So entirely ignorant was I, in relation to your 
having been excluded from the funeral services of 
Mr. Adams, that, until I received your letter, I should 
have given it as my recollection, that you did actually 
participate in those services." 

The coffin of Mr. Adams was covered with black velvet 

and ornamented with silver lace. The silver breastplate 
presented the following inscription: 

John Quincy Adams 


An Inhabitant of Massachusetts, July 11, 1767 


A Citizen of the United States, 

In the Capitol of Washington 

February 23, 1848 

Having Served his Country for Half a Century 


Enjoyed its Highest Honors 

On Satm-day, February 26, 1848, the body of Adams 
was interred in the Congressional Burying Ground. How- 
ever, the remains were deposited there only a few days, 
as the final interment was at Quincy, Massachusetts. 
Congressman John Wentworth was the Illinois Demo- 
cratic delegate of the Committee of Thirty that ac- 
companied the remains to Massachusetts. In Boston a 
committee of the Legislature of Massachusetts took 
charge of the ceremonies at Fanueil Hall and of the 
burial at Quincy, Massachusetts, Adams' home. 

By a House resolution Adams' seat was to remain 
vacant for a period of thirty days. However, a political 
movement was not long in getting underway to elect 
Charles Frances Adams, the dead President's son, to the 
vacated seat. These political plans did not materialize 
and Horace Mann received the nomination and was sub- 
sequently elected. 

A considerate gesture on the part of the Congress was 
a resolution passed by both houses granting "That all 
letters and packets carried to and from Louisa Catherine 
Adams, widow of the late John Quincy Adams, be con- 
veyed free of postage during her natural life" (she died 
May 15, 1852). 

One of the final Adams entries in The Congressional 
Globe, dated March 3, 1848, is the letter Mrs. Adams sent 
to the Speaker to be read (March 1, 1848) before the 
House of Representatives: 

"Washington, February 29, 1848 

Sir: The resolution in honor of my dear deceased hus- 
band, passed by the illustrious assembly over which you 
preside, and of which he at the moment of his death was 
a member, have been duly communicated to me. 

Penetrated with grief at this distressing event of my 
life; mourning the loss of one who has been at once my 
example and my support through the trials of half a 
century, permit me nevertheless to express through you 
my deepest gratitude for the signal manner in which the 
public regard has been voluntarily manifested by your 
honorable body, and the consolation derived to me and 
mine from the reflection, that the unwearied efforts of 
an old public servant have not even in this world proved 
without their reward in the generous appreciation of 
them by his country. 

With great respect, I remain, sir, your obedient servant, 

Louisa Catherine Adams. 

To the Honorable Robert C. Winthrop, 

Speaker of the House of Representatives of the U.S." 

On June 20, 1848, another resolution relating to the 
lamented Adams was brought before the House. "Re- 
solved that the Committee on the Library of this House 
be authorized to procure a monument of Quincy granite, 
with suitable inscriptions to be erected in the Con- 
gressional burying grounds in memory of John Quincy 

Perhaps the last resolution relating to the demise of 
Adams is dated March 3, 1949 when Mr. Ashmun pre- 
sented a resolution that a bust of John Quincy Adams, 
by the artist John C. King, which had been procured by 
voluntary subscriptions, be placed in the Speaker's room 
"to mark the spot, and commemorate the circumstances 
of his death." 

Thus, Abraham Lincoln while a member of the 30th 
Congress, witnessed the death stroke of one of the great 
men of our country and an outstanding figure in the 
diplomatic affairs of our nation. 

(See Lincoln Lore No. 854, "Lincoln and John Quincy 
Adams" August 20, 1945). 

Abraham Lincoln's "Failures" and "Successes" 

Page 1 of 2 

tbraham Lincoln Online 


Home | News | Books | Speeches | Places | Resources | Students | Index | Search | Discussion 

Lincoln's "Failures"? 

Below is one version of the so-called "Lincoln failures" list, shown in bold type. It's 
often used to inspire people to overcome life's difficulties with Lincoln as a model. 
Then look at the right column with other facts from Lincoln's pre-presidential life. 
History professor Lucas Morel compiled this comparison from the Chronology in 
Selected Speeches and Writings/Lincoln by Don E. Fehrenbacher, ed., 1992. 





Lost job 

Defeated for state 

Elected company captain of Illinois 
militia in Black Hawk War 


Failed in business 

Appointed postmaster of New Salem, 


Appointed deputy surveyor of Sangamon 



Elected to Illinois state legislature 


Sweetheart died 


Had nervous breakdown 

Re-elected to Illinois state legislature 
(running first in his district) 
Received license to practice law in 
Illinois state courts 


Led Whig delegation in moving Illinois 

state capital from Vandalia to 


Became law partner of John T. Stuart 


Defeated for Speaker 

Nominated for Illinois House Speaker by 

Whig caucus 

Re-elected to Illinois House (running 

first in his district) 

Served as Whig floor leader 


Abraham Lincoln's "Failures" and "Successes" 

Page 2 of 2 


Chosen presidential elector by first Whig 


Admitted to practice law in U.S. Circuit 



Argues first case before Illinois Supreme 


Re-elected to Illinois state legislature 


Established new law practice with 
Stephen T. Logan 


Admitted to practice law in U.S. District 


Defeated for nomination 
for Congress 


Established own law practice with 
William H. Herndon as junior partner 


Elected to Congress 


Lost renomination 

(Chose not to run for Congress, abiding 
by rule of rotation among Whigs.) 


Rejected for land officer 

Admitted to practice law in U.S. 
Supreme Court 

Declined appointment as secretary and 
then as governor of Oregon Territory 


Defeated for U.S. Senate 

Elected to Illinois state legislature (but 
declined seat to run for U.S. Senate) 


Defeated for nomination 
for Vice President 


Again defeated for U.S. 


Elected President 

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